Northwest Screen Dance Exposition: Celebrating choreographed cinema

Film meets dance in Eugene festival showcasing emerging art form


Mix cinematography, choreography, and music, and you get screendance, a relatively new time-based art form that can only be experienced on the theater or home screen. While its origins date back to the early days of film, screendance really broke through with the experimental films of Maya Deren who, in the 1940s, explored the interrelationship of dance movement and the moving image. Her films Study in Choreography for Camera (1945) and Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946) explored human movement with the filmmaking process and took dance from the limiting confines of the stage out into the world beyond.

Still from short film “Private Life Variations” by Deborah Slater. Photo: Deborah Slater Dance Theater.

Still from short film “Private Life Variations” by Deborah Slater. Photo: Deborah Slater Dance Theater.

New video technologies have made experimental cinema much more accessible and affordable, igniting renewed interest in exploring what is now called screendance film making.

The second annual Northwest Screen Dance Exposition celebrated this burgeoning artistic medium with an afternoon and evening program of selected international films on October 11 at the Bijou Cinema Arts Theatre in Eugene. A panel of dance and film professionals chose 19 short films and two feature documentaries from among 73 entries from 13 countries. Themes ranged from a film in which the interplay of dance movement, light and architecture is explored to a film based on the birth of neurons and synaptic connections. Of course there were the traditional themes of romance, loss and even humor. Of the many films presented this year, three stood out.

“How does one cope with someone disappearing from their life?”

That’s the theme (according to its program note) for Wake, a five minute collaborative film by the Wilder siblings. Holly (choreographer/director) and Duncan (cinematographer) are, according to their website, “dedicated to capturing raw humanity through movement and lens.”

The piece is set within a fall landscape of color with scattered leaves thickly layered atop a damp moist ground, reminiscent of Oregon this time of year. Dancers Victoria Daylor and Gabriel Lawton are emotionally and physically engaged with question of loss as they move under, over, and across the leaf strewn ground. The constantly moving camera is choreographed to participate as if a third dancer joining Daylor and Lawton. Filmic editing contributes to the viewer’s awareness of the couple’s feelings as they become conscious of their pending loss.

The music, “A Treehouse in Heaven” by Dylan Cantu and Elliot Skinner, provides a narrative context. For me, the camera movement, composition, editing, and the engagement of the camera as if a third dancer, effectively demonstrate the value of the screendance art form.

Eclipse is a short film by Canadian photographer David Cooper and visual artist Linda Arkelian, set to We Move Lightly by American composer and pianist Dustin O’Haliroan. Two dancers, Darren Devaney and Thibaut Eiferman, engage in a pas de deux against a dark cosmic like background in which a bright sun-like light source facilitates the dancers appearing as celestial objects in eclipse of one another. Unlike Wake, the camera acts not as participant, but more as an observer. The cinematic techniques of slow motion, image superimposition, sequence editing as well as the close-up photographic composition of shots are this screendance’s highlights.

Picnic from cara hagan on Vimeo.

Picnic is less than one minute long. The scene: a simple picnic on a sunny day, set to “L’épisode cévenol” by Circus Marcus. Cameraman Robert Gelber uses a stop-motion technique most associated with the film Neighbours (1952) by the late Canadian filmmaker Norman McLaren The dancer, directed by Cara Hagan, changes position and holds still as Gelbern records a number of film frames. The dancer then changes position and the animation process continues. The resulting image, when screened, depicts a woman who seemingly floats across the ground, disappears and reappears.

Two other recommended films screened this year are also online. Inheritor Recordings by Brian Johnson, with choreography by the 605 collective, features some fascinating time-space warping and a pulsating dance beat composed by Jesse Zubot.

Inheritor Recordings‘ from Brian Johnson on Vimeo.

Jordan Taylor Fuller’s Through the Eyes of My Meal, with original score by Basic Shapes (Patrick Estabrook and Brooke Morrison), and choreography by Katherine Maxwell, is also set in a raw industrial space to electronic beats. “Aside from having a very cool title,” according to expo producer John Watson, it’s possibly “the most edgy film of the group,” perhaps in part because of its mature audience rating.

Through the Eyes of My Meal‘ from Jordan Taylor Fuller on Vimeo.

The Northwest Screen Dance Exposition, the only such festival between San Francisco and Vancouver BC, has generated much interest in Eugene and throughout the state. The exposition’s grant-supported Academic Outreach Program shares the festival’s resources with youth and this year has partnered with Springfield’s Academy of Arts and Academics (A3). Under the mentorship of exposition producers and founders Dorene Carroll and John Watson, students, faculty, and participating guest artists will screen and discuss selected films from this year’s festival, then create their own screendance projects. These student works will be shown in May at the A3 school and to audiences next summer throughout Lane County and featured in the 2017 NW Screendance Exposition program.

Welcome by Screendance Expo founders and producers John Watson and Dorene Carroll. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Welcome by Screendance Expo founders and producers John Watson and Dorene Carroll. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

Like the art form it chronicles, the festival is expanding. “We are working on plans to tour the programs to other dance and film festivals, as well as showings in educational settings,“ says Watson. “We are in the process of debriefing this year’s event, and determining what programming might be interesting to our audiences, and how to best reach them. Plans also include developing additional programming throughout the year, like a 60 Second Cellphone Screendance Competition.”

The Northwest Screendance Exposition is supported by the Lane Community College Dance and Media Arts Programs, the University of Oregon Department of Dance, the Lane Arts Council with support from the City of Eugene Cultural Service Division.

Gary Ferrington is a Senior Instructor Emeritus, Instructional Systems Technology, College of Education, University of Oregon. He is an advocate for new music and serves as project coordinator for Oregon ComposersWatch.

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